When Staff Sgt. Joshua Mills joined the Army in 2005, his family prepared for many holidays apart, including Christmas. Yet as his older brother told The El Paso Times, the Green Beret would almost always manage to find his family on December 25.
I learned of Staff Sgt. Mills' story on Christmas 2010, while walking through Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. While every resting spot on this sacred ground is important, Mills' headstone stood out because of moving, carefully placed decorations on and around the Soldier's headstone.
As you can see in the above photo, a loved one or friend pasted his picture and a "hero" sticker on each side of "U.S. Army," while the small tree and candy cane on each side of the headstone signify the true meaning of Christmas: Sacrifice, love, and family.
When Mills was deciding on his career path, Chris Roberts reports that he decided to follow the noble path of his dad, Tommy Mills, who had a distinguished career as an Army warrant officer. One of his brothers, Travis Mills, serves in the Air Force. Joshua Mills' inner call to serve was so strong that he left the University of Texas to enlist, trading dorm rooms and fraternity parties for 5 a.m. wake up calls and demanding tests of physical skill and emotional willpower. Training was hard on the aspiring Soldier, but it all paid off when he became part of the Army's elite Special Forces.
On September 16, 2009, the 24-year-old Green Beret was on his second deployment to Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device planted by terrorists took his life in Helmand province. Killed alongside Mills were Sgt. 1st Class Bradley Bohle, 29, and Sgt. Shawn McCloskey, 33. All three departed warriors served with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
December 25, 2010, marked the second Christmas since Mills was taken from his family. Not long beforehand was the second birthday of his young son, Malaki, who is learning about his father's heroism from his mother, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. A deeply moving Batman-themed birthday party invitation attached to the fallen Soldier's headstone shows us that dad will always be an integral part of his son's life.
"We feel you near...'Ki Ki' seems to sense your presence and says things and points when no one else is there. We know you are are NOT GONE -- you will always be with us -- especially in our hearts."
Cars were permitted to pass through most roads inside Arlington National Cemetery on Christmas, perhaps because officials knew how many relatives and friends wanted to visit their fallen heroes on the special holiday. Just as I was leaving, a large pickup truck pulled up with a huge tribute to Staff Sgt. Joshua Micah Mills on the back window. Once again, this proud, patriotic American family was together for Christmas.